Circa 1983, VSR owner/operator, Bill Dumas, decided he would produce a vinyl EP (extended play) record to “document” his years of performing rock music. Once completed he planned to leave rock & roll behind and become a jazz drummer.
The label name came to him while painting a house at the time and wishing the house was vinyl sided to eliminate the need for painting.
During the arduous two-year process of producing the record, Bill was a jazz and rock DJ at WHUS, the University of Connecticut radio station with a wide broadcast range. He got caught up in the excitement of the rock music renaissance which was punk and New Wave.
At the same time he was becoming entrenched in the New London music scene where center had moved from the legendary Ba Ba O’Reilly’s club to the El ’n’ Gee. Bands such is The Reducers, New Johnny Five, Paisley Jungle, The Cartoons, The Clothespins, The Whales and many others were creating a hotbed of music that would soon get national attention.
Bill titled his studio project, “Blonde Furniture” and the 4-song EP was titled “Has More Fun.” It included guest appearances by Hugh Birdsall (The Reducers), Ken Nash (New Johnny 5), Tim Stawarz (Motive 8, Roger C. Reale.) and David Ponak (Another Day.)
It also included a secret track containing a snippet of Bill’s performance on the Late Night Show with David Letterman - a gag that had Bill performing on drums over the phone with Paul Shaffer’s band on the same show Bob Dylan performed which was a memorable moment as he hadn’t performed on TV for many years.
The Blonde Furniture record release party at the A.N.N.I.E. club (which the El ’n’ Gee club was renamed for a short time) resulted in the largest attendance event to date at the club reaching capacity by 10 p..m. On the bill was The Reducers, Motive 8 and Another Day (Bill playing percussion and keyboards.) Blonde Furniture being a studio project didn’t perform.
At this point Bill realized that the Blonde Furniture project was not the end of a personal era (as a rock & roll artist) but rather the beginning of a new era of rock & roll that he wanted to be a part of.
Bill decided to produce a compilation of New London bands and promote it to college and alternative radio stations and the alternative music media throughout the country.
Vinyl Siding Records joined the growing industry of DIY record labels sprouting up around the U.S. eventually releasing nine records by local and national acts.
TOWERS OF NEW LONDON STORY
I put the Towers comp together because after producing my first Blonde Furniture record I realized I had learned so much about record production and it cost me so much (in both time and money) that I should put that knowledge to continuing use and make another record.
I was a DJ at WHUS at the time and I was seeing some good compilations from the indie labels at the time and thought there were enough good bands in New London to do a local comp. I could certainly do that quicker than writing 10 new songs and putting out another BF disc.
When I got first got the idea to do the BF EP (circa 1982) I thought I was going to be the first area musician to put out 12 inch vinyl. It took so long to get it done that the Reducers were releasing their second LP by the time I released BF. (For an aside, the BF "Has More Fun" record release party was the biggest night at the El 'n Gee up to that point - body count-wise: Anthony Benoit argues the Whales hold the record for most beer served. The doors closed at around 10 p.m. because the Gee was way over capacity. The Reducers played that night, so much of the credit goes to them. Motive 8 played and also, Another Day. I was playing in Another Day at the time and we opened that night. A lot of people assumed THAT was BF.)
Another aside: My intention for the Blonde Furniture project was to document for posterity my years in playing and performing in rock bands. I was then going to hang up rock and roll and become a jazz drummer. But that never happened because Towers catapulted me into the world of record label owner.
At the time I did Towers I was a big fan of XTC and I love their song, "Towers of London" (if that even is the name of the song.) And then the name just hit me, "Towers of NEW London." When I ran that title idea by Danny Curland of Mystic Disc he said, "Well, XTC didn't actually coin the phrase." (i.e.It’s a London landmark.) The next thing I did was ask Peter Detmold if the Reducers would participate. I probably wouldn't have done it if he said no. But he was enthusiastic about the idea.
I don't remember exactly how I solicited bands. I do remember writing "Bands Wanted" PSAs for WCNI and WHUS and I did read them and heard them read over the air. I think I also put up posters around the area and there was an article or two in the local papers.
I didn't have any criteria for the bands. They didn't have to be a live band or necessarily from New London but somehow connected to the scene. Motive 8 was from Hartford but they played New London often and Tim Stawarz is from the area (Sterling) and was one of the first punk/new wavers that I ever knew. He also played previously with Roger C. Reale. Every band that wanted to be on Towers did get on it. Luckily there was just enough room on a single LP. I remember there was concern we were getting close to putting too many grooves on the vinyl and they could be too thin. Never really thought about the physics of vinyl records before that.
I pressed 1000 copies of Towers I and got a couple of the indie distributors to pick it up. I sent out about 300 for promotion (radio and press.) I don't think it charted on CMJ but did in Vox Pop and maybe Boston Rock. It did really well at some stations - #3 at the Univ. of Hawaii for example. And it was big in New Orleans, I believe.
It just about broke even financially. When I did Towers II I pressed 2000 which was a big mistake. It sold less than Towers I so I took a big financial hit on that one.
But the Towers experience got me entrenched in the New London scene and in the general indie rock scene. I started signing bands and going to music conferences. I was on a couple indie record panels including the national IBS (college radio) convention in NYC.
I thought my big break was signing "Made For TV" whose music was produced by John Cale who also played guitar on it - side two was recorded live at CBGBs The short of it is the record was about a year too late to be relevant as the re-release of the indie classic “So Afraid of the Russians” was not landing during Glasnost. The college kids were now wondering, “Why are we afraid of the Russians.”
At about that time, CD technology was coming in vogue and during the couple year transition from vinyl to CD, a label had to supply both vinyl and CD to all the radio stations or you couldn't get on the charts - basically doubling the cost of putting out a record. By then I had already lost several thousand dollars on the nine records I released. I had also started pursuing filmmaking at that time and decided I would focus on that for a while. Which worked out as I got accepted to a Fellowship at The American Film Institute in LA and received my MFA in screenwriting.